Is it Just a Toothache or a Real Dental Emergency?

Ky Dentist Pasadena CAWhen you’re at home and trying to determine if a toothache is a real dental emergency, the question is: Do you have an abscessed tooth?

Ask yourself: How excruciating is the pain? Do you have swelling? Do you have a fever?

All of these signs are indicators of an abscessed tooth that needs immediate attention.

Here’s what you should do, and what you need to know about a tooth abscess.

What is an Abscessed Tooth?

A tooth abscess is a bacterial infection in your tooth that creates a pocket of bacteria in the root or gum. There two common types of abscesses. The periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root, and the periodontal abscess occurs in your gums next to the root. This second one is often called a “gum” abscess because of its location.

Because an abscess is an infection that’s capable of spreading other parts of your body, an abscess is a dental emergency that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible. For most patients, you’ll know something is wrong based on your symptoms:

  • Severe or throbbing pain in your jaw, tooth, or cheek
  • Sensitivity to temperature, both hot and cold
  • Pain and discomfort while biting or chewing
  • Swollen face or cheek
  • Fever
  • Dark or discolored tooth

Once you begin to notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact our office as soon as possible.

In rare cases, the abscess may rupture, giving you temporary relief — and a foul taste and odor in your mouth. Without correct treatment, the infection can still cause problems even after a rupture.

Treating an Abscess Tooth

The primary diagnosis for an abscessed tooth will be based on your symptoms. We will examine you and order x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Any abscess will require treatment, even if it ruptures on its own or you’re not feeling pain.

Your abscess will be drained of the bacteria, removing as much as possible. You’ll also be put on antibiotics to clear up the infection and prevent it from spreading. In some cases, a root canal may be able to save your tooth. If not, it will need to be extracted.

Not receiving treatment can lead to dangerous complications. The infection can become worse, and you can develop sepsis — a life-threatening infection. Pregnant women should report symptoms immediately to avoid complications with their pregnancy. For children, an abscessed baby tooth typically can’t be saved and will often be pulled.

Can an Abscess Be Prevented?

Absolutely, an abscess can be prevented. The best way to do this is with good, consistent dental care. Having your teeth and gums checked every six months will catch most problems before they become serious. Other ways to prevent an abscessed tooth include:

  • Brushing and flossing regularly
  • Drinking fluoridated water
  • Using a fluoride or antiseptic mouthwash
  • Avoiding a high sugar diet
  • Reducing and stopping teeth grinding and clenching
  • Replacing your toothbrush every few months

Wisdom teeth have a higher chance to developing an abscess. Because of this, we may recommend having them removed.


An abscessed tooth is a dental emergency you don’t want to ignore. Because it can happen to almost anyone at any time, it’s important to have a dentist you can call whenever you need help.

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Dentist In Pasadena, CA, Sean T. Ky DDS
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